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Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

The Great Wagon Road

Posted October 2, 2008 9:06 a.m. EDT

Did your ancestors travel the Great Wagon Road? Who were they? And what do you know about them? What do you know about the road? Please discuss.

US Highway 52 around Winston-Salem is part of the Great Wagon Road which served as a transit route for European immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania but who sought greater freedom and land opportunites to the south in the 18th century. So they loaded up their belongings in Conestoga wagons and hit the road traveling no more than ten miles a day. As we mentioned earlier this week Thomas Jefferson's father Peter mapped Pilot Mountain which sits along the old wagon route in Surry County.

Many of North Carolina's Scots-Irish settlers traveled the Great Wagon Road. Originally the road ended around present day Winston-Salem but was later extended with offshoots to Charlotte and beyond. German travelers also made the trek including the Moravians who laid down roots in the Wachovia settlement. You can learn more about this fascinating chapter of North Carolina history by visiting the restored Moravian village of Old Salem in Forsyth County. Be sure to taste the delicious Moravian sugarcake cooked daily at Winkler Bakery. The holiday season is a wonderful time to catch a wide array of interesting events here. My love of Old Salem was captured in an instrumental tune I put on my Christmas in Carolina album. It’s called Moravian Gift.

The Great Wagon Road was no joyride. The route was narrow, rough and muddy. But it did provide hope for families looking for a fresh new life and inexpensive farmland. Most people walked the road. Others traveled this old Indian trail by wagon or horse. My kinfolk, the Leslies, traveled the Great Wagon Road to the Waxhaw settlement south of Charlotte. They built a modest home just off the GWR. What about your family?